Leslie Allen Jones’ homegrown scroll map of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon

Leslie Allen Jones, [Scroll map of the Colorado River from Lake Powell to Lake Mead]. Bountiful and/or Heber City, Utah: Leslie Allen Jones, ca. 1962/63.
Rolled strip map, 10” wide x 616” long (That’s not a typo!) Accompanied by clear plastic bag intended to house the rolled map while in use on the river. Some minor water staining and wrinkling to a few feet near the center of the map, but otherwise excellent for its type.
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Leslie Allen Jones’ scarce, pioneering and utterly idiosyncratic scroll map of several hundred miles of the Colorado River, including the Grand Canyon.

Clocking in at over 51 feet long, the map depicts some 330 miles of the Colorado River, beginning just below Lake Powell in Arizona and terminating in Lake Mead in Nevada. The map contains a staggering amount of information compiled by Jones from government maps, his own unmatched knowledge of the river, and other sources.

Much of the information is the expected content essential to those running any dangerous and demanding river, including river gradients, water levels, rapids and other hazards, the topography of the surrounding landscape, resting places, camp sites, and so on. But there is also a wealth of other material, perhaps less immediately practical but imparting to the map both added informational value and idiosyncratic charm. Included for example are historical notes about John Wesley Powell’s pioneering 1869 Colorado River expedition as well as the adventures (and misadventures) of more recent river runners, messages reflecting Jones’ strong pro-conservation views, and even spiritual aphorisms. Herewith some examples:

[At mile] 14, 9:30am[:] “Head mount camera knocked loose. Neglect to refasten.” [At mile] 16, 10:30am[:] “Camera went overboard floated 100 yds and sank”.

 

“CONSERVATION NOTICE[:] OPPOSE MARBLE CANYON DAM M. Pt. 37 12 below Lees Ferry and BRIDGE CANYON DAM M. Pt. 233 in the Grand Canyon. They cut off river boating forever thru Grand Canyon Park & back reservoir into Grand Canyon parks.”

 

“Ride the wilderness whitewaters in reverence before God—with a prayer his strength will be in you”.

The map bears a copyright date of 1962, but internal evidence suggests this example includes updates made in 1963. One note in particular mentions “A record low water trip on 1080-1200 cfs … made by Les Jones and Ulrich Martins in 14 ½ day of Oct. 1963.”

Leslie Allen Jones
Jones (1925/6-2020) got his start running the Green River in the late1940s with his cousin Bus Hatch. Jones was hooked, and—a civil engineer by training—he designed a unique canoe-kayak-raft hybrid of aluminum, in which he first ran the Grand Canyon in 1953. In 1954 he helped found the Western River Guides Association and was in charge of its mapping and/or safety programs. A devout Mormon, he eventually quit the group because its meetings featured “too much drinking, swearing, and rock and roll”. (Webb) A straight arrow, perhaps, but also quirky: He gained the nickname “Buckethead” for filming his river adventures with a camera (later, a movie camera) mounted on a leather football helmet, protected with a paint can with a cutout for the lens.

Prior to Jones there were no guides or maps designed for use on Western rivers. The most valuable resource was the Plan and Profile of Colorado River published by the USGS in 1924… a superb piece of work, but printed on 21 large sheets of paper and hopelessly ill-suited for use on the water. Some river runners cut up and mounted or rolled the sheets of the Plan and Profile to create jury-rigged river guides, but Jones chose to start from scratch. 

“I’d noticed when I’d run with the Sierra Club the rapids all kind of ran together as a blur, and I couldn’t remember the details well enough, and I didn’t have any identification points. So I started my scroll maps—I didn’t like the wind on the U.S. Geological [Survey] maps, so I started building my scroll maps.

 

“The outline of the maps was taken either from aerial photographs and drawn artfully, or traced directly from the contour maps of the U.S. Geological Survey, putting the river end-to-end, instead of cut up in segments like the USGS did, . . . so I could line the river out on a seven-inch scroll strip and then take it from one end to the other, without having to run off the scroll.” (Jones, quoted in Quartaroli, 158)

 Jones’ early scroll maps were whiteprints on paper, thus tending to fade in sunlight and deform or tear when wet, so at some point he began to print them on waterproof mylar. Another Jones innovation, of a piece with his hybrid kayak and “Buckethead” photo rig, was the provision of a clear, waterproof plastic bag with each map, one of which accompanies this map of the Grand Canyon. The bags bore his printed instructions for how to seal a map inside so that “you can roll 20 feet of map a minute, keeping 5 to 10 miles visible at a time all the time inside the waterproof bag”.

As with the Grand Canyon map offered here, Jones’ other maps are distinctive in content as well as form, including among other things historical notes; aesthetic, geographic and geological comments; conservation messages; and spiritual aphorisms. I offered up some examples earlier, but here are a couple of favorites from other Jones maps, both revelatory of his values and personality.

“The Lord God of Israel Lives And speaks through His prophets. In America”.

 

“Fools walk in where wise men go prepared. Experience and outfit unequal to the most a proposed expedition may require of you may require your life—if not the life of someone following your bad example.”

Best as I can tell, Jones produced dozens of scroll maps, of rivers in the Colorado Basin, but also as far afield as Idaho, Montana, Utah, British Columbia and Mexico, many in multiple variants. It is however difficult to track the evolution of the maps, as he was haphazard in his use of titles, publication dates and revision dates. It does seem however that he revised and reissued at least some of them. For example, I recently handled a collection including three maps of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River: The first dated to 1964 and features the familiar contour lines of U.S. Geological Survey maps; while two others dating to May 1971 were on an entirely different format, with elevations indicated by hachuring.

The somewhat haphazard nature of the maps’ manufacture is also interesting. I have seen another of Jones’ scroll maps of the Grand Canyon, identical in almost every respect but printed by a different method, with a different arrangement of statistical panels and other explanatory information, and aggressively trimmed, with some loss, to a height of just 7”.

A remarkable map of the Colorado River, both eminently useful and idiosyncratic, from one of the most accomplished Western river guides of the 20th century.

References
Not in OCLC. Herm Hoops, “A Brief History of Early River Maps and Guides on the Colorado River System” (2006), accessed at riversimulator.org, Feb. 2022. Richard D. Quartaroli, “Evolution of the Printed Colorado River Guide in Grand Canyon, Arizona”, in Michael F. Anderson, ed., A Gathering of Grand Canyon Historians (Grand Canyon, AZ: Grand Canyon Association, 2005), pp. 155-162). Roy Webb, obituary of Jones posted on Facebook, June 18, 2020, accessed Feb. 2022. See also this audio recording of a 1994 interview with Jones on the web site of Northern Arizona University. That interview is reprinted in Boatman’s Quarterly Review, vol. 14 no. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 22-31.